Snarky

Posted on June 1, 2010

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As seems inevitably to happen when I’ve been feeling magnanimous, and chosen to place it on paper or in cyberspace, it is quickly followed by an episode of snarky. Humility training, I suppose. My subconscious reminding me that, Mother Teresa, I am not.

Snarky used to be a way of life for me, to a degree that far exceeded my magnanimity. I hid behind sarcasm and a cutting wit to hide feeling inadequate or lonely or insecure. Others may be witty for other reasons, but those were mine, in all honesty. Then a man whom I admired very, very much (Marvin J. Ashton) said to the world that there was really no place for Murphy Brown in our lives. I can still remember where I was sitting and how I felt as I realized that my idol did not approve of my favorite television character. He called it “bashing” and suddenly I had an image of my words striking people and drawing unseen blood. Since then I’ve ridden the pendulum back the other way (doormat, can you say “doormat”?) and decided that somewhere in the middle is the ability to speak the truth only when needed and without wounding. I don’t know that I’m good at it yet, but I do at least acknowledge the possibility.

So, for the most part, decently kind and patient human being. Except the last few days, when I can’t even count the number of times I’ve closed my eyes so that nobody saw them rolling. In honor of my potential truth-telling power (and as devoid of snarkiness as I can make it), I offer my list of pet peeves to the emptiness of cyberspace, where it will not land on anyone in particular and bash them.

  • Crumbs. Anywhere. Counters, floors on which I walk barefoot, back of toilet (nope, don’t want to know.)
  • Socks wrong-side out and rolled. Especially if behind couches. Double especially if wet.
  • People who lie, blame, or dodge responsibility.
  • Tomato cutworms and hornets.
  • Allergies. And Sinus Infections. (Capitals probably aren’t enough. It should be a larger type size.)
  • People who yell at small children.
  • Waste.
  • Left-handed or manipulative compliments.
  • Dirty windows. Yep, mine are.
  • Threads hanging off of something and tickling my skin, but which I can’t rip off because I will be standing there like a cartoon in a pile of string instead of clothing.
  • The fog of waking up with too little sleep.
  • Dealing with people who are painfully helpless (hence the picture above.)
  • The dusty smell of window screens.

The bad part about making a list like that is where to stop. It sort of takes on a life of its own, enveloping things which are trivial and giving them unusual weight, which was the point my idol was making about Murphy Brown. And it contributes to one of what I think is the most deadly attitudes we embrace: DISDAIN.

When I am feeling snarky I have no responsibility to consider the situation in which something that annoys me is occurring. I can simply comment on it, like a motorist passing a crash site, and drive on. It’s an attitude of simplistic solutions and trivialized traumas, because all snarky humor contains that element of irony in which we “see” something of which the object of our “seeing” is blissfully unaware. It’s condescension elevated to an art form.

Much humor has its genesis in a recognized pattern or shared experience (anyone else feel the whole “rolled up socks” experience?) and is a wonderful pressure valve that puts those situations in perspective by reducing their perceived threat to us. But it is so hard to limit it to shared non-character experience, like the subtle leap unburdening one’s soul takes to gossiping shamelessly instead of resolving a problem. For instance, I’m sure there are people who feel that I’ve dodged some responsibility, even as I complain about someone else leaving me holding a bag or two.

In humor, it boils down to how it affects me. Mel Brooks’ definitions of tragedy and comedy are a long-time favorite of mine: Tragedy is when I cut my little finger; Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die. I laugh, because I recognize that proximity matters. Things are funny when they aren’t my present reality. That’s okay when we’re talking about socks and sinuses. It’s another thing when I’m assassinating character.

So, amidst my sinus infection, too little sleep, crumbs, musty screens, and rolled up socks, I’m going to try to give the Maurices and Mabels in my life the benefit of the doubt and skip the snarky observation. I may close my eyes, however.

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